Digital Youth Wales

Preparing, Inspiring and Supporting Young People in a Digital World

(Part 7) Personal highlights: innovation and inspiration

The Last Gadget
Having heard all the stats about children and young people's media literacy (see my blog post part 6), it was time for grown-ups to check how they measured up.

How well equipped are we, adults, parents, guardians, educators and youth workers to support and inspire the next generation of "digital natives"? What new resources are professionals and educators of the 21st century using to innovate learning processes? The YPDW2010 conference was certainly not short of trailblazers and trendsetters. Below, I have selected a "taster" sample of a few of the talks and workshops.

Sangeet: the grown-up digital literacy test

Every single young person who attended the conference seemed to have a Facebook profile, as did more than 50% of the adult audience. How well or effectively they used it was an entirely separate question.

Sangeet Bhullar, WISE KIDS' executive director, talked about digital literacy in a changing landscape and used her own Facebook page to demonstrate examples of information users can access through a Facebook profile: photos, text, videos and status updates from 'friends', sometimes, even strangers. The site currently offers detailed privacy options for each section, but how well, questioned Sangeet, will a 13-year-old manage such complex settings? (The minimum age for using Facebook is 13)

Protection from internet risks at school is artificial protection in a controlled environment. Life after school is much longer than life in it.Young people need skills to safeguard them for a lifetime. Her talk was a wake-up call as to how fundamental it is for us to be able understand what is available out there, how to use it wisely, and pass the wisdom on, just as we teach our children good manners, how to ride a bike.or – to use Tanya Byron's metaphor – how to swim (in digital waters).

Relatively new social media sites, such as Twitter and professional networking sites, such as LinkedIn, can be used as powerful professional tools, even for finding a new job. Sangeet showed the audience why and how, including possible pitfalls, and encouraged everyone to have a try.

A few caveats. Adults must remember, and pass on to the younger generation, that whatever we put on the web, can stay there for a long time. Search engines like Google can "crawl" all over the world wide web and pull all the information together about you from a variety of sites. and, for instance, aggregate all your public information in one place, including photos and bios, even your Amazon wish list, if you hadn't set it to private. Shocked? Go to now and enter your name. You will be surprised by the results.

In social networking sites the borderline between personal and professional, between private and public tends to become blurred. Is it appropriate for youth workers and teachers to "befriend" pupils or ex-pupils on Facebook? Can we always tweet the first thought that comes to our minds? Lots of food for thought.

The online world is not different from the real world – there are risks and there are opportunities. It is up to us to learn to navigate it wisely, as the future – ours and young people's – is digital.

Gavin and Angharad: Big Brother comes to Swansea

You have heard of Big Brother. Even if you have never watched it, you can't have failed to notice the worldwide popularity of the Endemol-produced Channel 4 reality TV show format.

Swansea Youth Service and Urdd/Menter Iaith Abertawe presented at YPDW2010 an example of innovative youth work, which was based on the Big Brother model and engaged young people in a unique learning experience using digital technology. Last year the youth workers transformed a youth centre in Swansea into a Big Brother house for five weeks and had 22 youths, aged between 13 and 19, living in it each week, including one week with a Welsh-speaking group. Staff in a control room observed them round the clock via cameras and a each week produced a winner. As many as 680 young people applied.

A multimedia blog, featuring text, photos and videos, was put up even before the project started, and throughout the experience live feeds were published on it. Watch the workshop's video footage below to find out how they overcame issues of safety for young people on the blog, on a Bebo page that a group of young people put up and so on, always with a positive approach to risk.

The technology didn't need to be too high-tech or costly. The project had funding of £5,000, £3,000 of which was used on technology, but staff even improvised with flip cameras to film the people in the house and upload it onto Apple computers they already had. As the experience wasn't commercial or meant for TV viewing, it was more important to give participants, and young people following them through the blog, a (safe) platform for gathering virtually, where they could comment, cheer and engage.

The beauty of it is it is innovative, it takes a popular TV show format that takes young people's interest and applies it directly to them, it is safe as long as the coordinators are duly trained (the Swansea Big Brother staff were trained by WISE KIDS), it creates a non-traditional learning environment outside the classroom and the home. Cardiff youth workers are now organising their Big Brother experience at half-term. Who will be next?

John Davitt: spinning cards, spinning minds
And speaking of innovation in teaching young people, if you ever get a chance to hear John Davitt talk anywhere, don't miss it. Listening to this educational maverick talk, I kept wishing I was a child again, going to a school using his teaching methodologies in the classroom. Amazing is too modest an adjective to describe his concepts on applying ICT to learning.

John Davitt is a journalist, braodacaster and a digital toolmaker with a background in the educational sector. He developed The Learning Score, a visual teaching tool, which enables teachers to plan their lessons as a graphical time line (which looks like a music score), embedding resources they want to use, and any annotations, into the plan itself. He is also the inventor of the open source Learning Event Generator and the RAG (Random Activity Generator), an interactive iPhone app, which you literally shake to spin virtual cards, which generate a random (learning) activity to do. Learning (and teaching) couldn't get more fun and innovative than this.

Having explained to the audience how to use tools such as Wordle to quickly find out what a random long article is talking about without reading it, he went on to demonstrated how a video of a talking sheep (created by combining the video of a grazing sheep with a recording) with a clip from Lord of the Rings by using tools such as Audacity and QuickTime Pro. With the technology available anything, anything at all, is possible as long as we don't assume a passive attitude towards receiving new tools, and instead re-purpose it to serve our needs.

My favourite John Davitt quote: "We mustn't be hoodwinked by technology."

Watch what happened to a room full of grown-up delegates at John Davitt's workshop when he assigned them tasks, or challenges, generated by the Learning Event Generator in his "Occupy the hand, free the hand" workshop. Could you present the history of house design in three continents using any object you can find in the room as modelling aids? By jolly, were they working (and laughing) hard...

Read more about John Davitt, listed as an 'innovator' on the Merlin John Online (MJO) news and features' website on technology for learning.

Leon: unfathomable immersion
I thought I had seen the extreme end of innovation-fest listening to John Davitt present, but Leon Cych's workshop on the use of immersive (or virtual) worlds to engage learners had my jaw down on the floor.

Wikepedia defines immersive digital environment as "an artificial, interactive, computer-created scene or "world" within which users can immerse themselves".Second Life is one such environment.

Leon Cych, director of Learn 4 Life, talked about how he is using Second Life as a space for professional development for adults. It is a virtual world targeted mainly at older students and adults, where you can create your own avatar, walk around in a virtual space either simulating things in real life or creating abstract environments, interact with other avatars. In this immersive world you can create and trade virtual property and services,run language courses, management courses, have virtual conferences, change the environment, such as the weather, the furniture, etc, all from the comfort of your own home.The advantage of meeting people virtually like is easily possible.

He also showed a video of American teacher Vicki Davies, who has been using a clone programme of Second Life called Reaction Grid Open SIM with her students.

Understandably, schools become very alarmed with the use of such technology by their pupils, so much so, Second Life is blocked in most universities. In order to make it possible to use such an innovative way of teaching, Vicki Davies got an agreement between teachers, parents and students that behaviour not tolerated in class would not be tolerated online either.

"You moderate behaviour, not content. It's about people, not about technology," says Leon. And when it comes to immersive environments, he says students are always 10 times more technologically advanced than teachers, so the teachers' role is one of facilitator.

Immersive environments are collaborative, borderless and highly social. Leon says 3D web is on its way whether educators want it or not and it is time to incorporate the technology into our teaching. Are we ready to embrace this technology to educate young people?

(Image by takeme.homewood's from Flickr - Learn4Life Island5)

Watching a demo of Leon's avatar walking around in his four-year-old island in the Second Life virtual world, drinking mugs of coffee, flying round the island, being teleported a la Star Trek and creating objects, etc, I wondered if I had eaten some dodgy mushroom the day before and had started tripping. Having grown up in an age when even video gaming did not yet exist, this seemed more 'geeky' than it was possible for me to logically understand. However, I can see how such an environment could be used as a routine learning tool to a generation of 21st century-born children, able to jump in and out of a virtual world just as matter-of-factly as we now switch our TVs on and off.

In the same way we now socialise on Facebook, SMS or Twitter while our parents' generation wonder why we don't telephone or write letters any more, we may be feeling a huge chasm of a generation gap when our children and grandchildren's avatars start planning a party in a virtual venue you won't even have to drive them to.
If you are not familiar with virtual worlds in an educational context, the video of Leon's workshop is well worth a peek. And note the stunned expressions in the audience!

Leon Cych is also mentioned as an 'innovator's innovator' on the Merlin John Online (MJO) website. Check out the article about him.

More, much more
This blog post is not meant to be an exhaustive guide to all the presentations and workshops. I have chosen to mention a few of the quirkier ones here, but there was something for everyone at YPDW2010. For a complete programme of the conferences and other related resources, click on the links below:
Slides of presentations used at the conference will be available on this site soon (at which point I will update this blog post).

If you are interested in digital literacy and young people, I strongly encourage you to join the Digital Youth Wales so you can network with other like-minded people and get notifications of future WISE KIDS events. Bloggers who have written about the subject themselves are welcome to leave a link here. It would be great to keep the conversation going so keep the comments coming.

All opinions in my blog posts are mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of WISE KIDS.

"The Last Gadget" Cartoon by Oliver Widder

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